Colorado Northwestern Community College flight team:
• Jason Krueger
• David Blood
• Cordero Valdez
• Marcus Kindall
• Tylor Yates
• James Segrest
• Tyson Letlow
• Ryan Stuhlmiller
• Jennessee Forster
• Torbyn Cabral
• Nigel Norris
• Casey Davis
• Kody Luke
Jennessee Forster stood near a field a few years ago and looked up. She saw a crop duster, she said, that changed her life from there on out.
“When I saw the crop duster go over my head, I knew I wanted to fly,” Forster said. “That was my ‘aha’ moment. It looked like pure excitement. When you know (flying is) something you want to do, you just know.”
Three years ago, Forster started taking private flying lessons in Fort Collins. On May 7, the 22-year-old graduated from Colorado Northwestern Community College’s aviation program.
But, Forster didn’t leave CNCC without giving something back.
She helped lead CNCC’s flight team to a 13th-place finish at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON 2011 national competition May 16 to May 21 at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Furthermore, CNCC earned the No. 1 ranking for two-year aviation programs in the nation.
“Being at the (national) competition is really exciting,” Forster said. “You are around people who have the same goal and drive you do. In Rangely, it is just our team, but at nationals, there are so many schools and pilots. For us to earn this honor is a great accomplishment.”
The CNCC team is made up of 10 team members and three coaches.
The team members are instructors Marcus Kindall and Tylor Yates, seniors Forster, James Segrest, Tyson Letlow and Ryan Stuhlmiller, and freshmen Torbyn Cabral, Nigel Norris, Casey Davis and Kody Luke. Jason Krueger, David Blood and Cordero Valdez are the coaches.
CNCC was also awarded the Collegiate Aviation Progress award for the progression the school has made the last few years.
Krueger said the new ranking and progress award are testaments to the hard work put in at the school’s aviation program.
“It really means a lot to our program and the way we teach and motivate the students,” he said. “I think for a two-year school to do this well sheds a whole new light on community colleges as a whole. Our students get the information in two years and only get to practice for two years.”
CNCC beat out five other two-year teams at the national competition.
The season started in the fall with about 80 teams in 10 different regions. The top three teams from each regional competition advanced to SAFECON.
“We have a good group of flight instructors in Marcus and Tylor,” Krueger said. “Marcus has been here from a few years ago to when we qualified for the national event last year to being the No.1 team this year. A lot of the credit goes to the instructors.”
During the event, competitors competed in 12 different events in both the air — such as landing and short field approach — and on the ground, ranging from pre-flight inspections to regulation and legality questions.
On top of CNCC’s 13th-place finish, Forster, along with her partner Cabral, took first-place overall in the message drop event.
The pair beat teams from schools all over the country, including Ohio State University, University of North Dakota and the United States Air Force Academy.
The message drop event requires a pilot to fly a plane at least 200 feet over the runway and then a drop master must drop a message block as close to a set of barrels as possible.
For the competition, Forster was the pilot and Cabral was the drop master. On two drops, the team totaled 50 feet from the barrel, 5 feet better than the second-place team from Jacksonville University.
“As the pilot, I want to make sure we approach slow, about 75 knots,” Forster said. “I also have to keep above, but near 200 feet. If we are below, we are disqualified. If we are too high, it makes it harder on Torbyn, so I need to be close.”
Krueger said as a coach, he is there to advise students.
“On the message drop, we advise them with the wind direction and any variables,” he said. “If they are going too fast or too slow, we help according to that. The wind can pick up and we want to help them adjust so they can get as close as possible. Afterwards, we debrief them to help them improve.”
Cabral said winning the message drop competition was exciting, but the experience of the national competition as a whole was exhilarating.
“When you go to these competitions, you learn a lot and you make a lot of new friends,” he said. “I recommend it to anyone interested in flying because it is a whole new experience. You get to see new and interesting things.”
Cabral said the lure of the many varieties of planes and helicopters is interesting, but the competition really helps for those interested in pursuing a career in aviation.
“To get a job flying, you have to know people and NIFA is a great way to make connections,” he said. “I get to log free hours that will come in handy when I pursue a job after I finish school.”
Still, Cabral said, just being able to fly is enough of a reward for him.
“When you are flying, it is a sense of freedom and a great feeling,” he said. “When you drive, you have to follow the lines, but when you are in the open skies, you are not restricted.”
With SAFECON 2011 now over, Forster, who also won the third-place Women’s Achievement award, said she is ready to move onto the next step of her aviation aspirations.
She will enroll in the University of Northern Colorado to major in business management so she can eventually manage a small airport and train pilots.
Thanks to Cabral, Forster said she has found a new love for helping to train new pilots.
“With Torbyn, I have learned I can teach things I didn’t know I had an answer to,” she said. “He has brought a teaching aspect to flying that is something I enjoy. I feel proud that I can control something as great as a plane and I feel confident I can teach it.”
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